Earlier this week Danny Sullivan and many others noted that MSN and ASK did a much better job of reporting the oscar winners, than Google did. After doing some due diligence Matt Cutts of Google noticed that the official Oscars page was returning a 500 error which was reason google was having a problem. I’ll take Matt at his word that this was the case. However what this did was expose a potential weak spot in Google’s armor. So I’m going to engage in a bit of a parlor game now, and lets play a bit of “what if” specifically “what if google was wrong?”
Google has a unique business model, for the sake of clarity let’s get right down to it, Google makes money by copying your content analyzing it and displaying advertising around it. Sure they solve the important and necessary problem of making things findable on the net, and they should be rewarded for it, but lets not forget without the publishers Google doesn’t exist.
What if the publishers decided to get together and play a nice little trick on Google. Using a bit of predictive SEO by looking at the history of Google’s holiday logo’s you could be relatively comfortable assuming there will be a holiday logo for July 4th this year. What if all the publishers who rank for those terms decided to play a little trick on Google, what if they did a bit of IP delivery and fed Google some special content, that was completely wrong. What if the snippets on Google said “July 4th is the day Great Brittan Celebrates Victory over the American Colonies”. Normal users clicking through would see the correct content, but Google still displays the incorrect information. Doing a postmortem Google could come back with how this was an evil plot by the publishers, but how many “Google Goofs on July 4th” blog posts do you think there would be, and do you think the man on the street wants to know or be bothered with the intricacies of cloaking and crawling? In their eyes Google got it wrong, end of story.
Let’s move up the food chain, what if the major newspapers across the United States got together and planned a one day information strike against Google. What if the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times and every other big paper had gotten a little sick and tired of living off the table scraps Google was giving them and blocked all thier crawling bots for one day. What do you think the general public would say when they checked out Google news and saw only stories from second and third tier publishers, while Yahoo News and Live News were perfectly fine. What do you think the homepage of Techmeme would look like, and just how much sympathy do you think there would be for Google?
Of course none of this will ever happen, because the suits sitting at the board room tables of newpapers lack the intestinal fortitude and cajones to stand up to Google, but it is fun to imagagine what if. Unless of course you’re sitting in Mountain View California in a bean bag chair bathed in the light of a lava lamp, because if you are, this story probably sent a cold shiver of fear and reality right down your spine.